For those wondering about my long radio-silence, I haven’t given up on composing. After some busy weeks spent tending to the affairs in my life, I’m now trying to get back onto the creative wagon.
My composing skills seem to have rusted in the fortnight or so in which I haven’t used them, which just confirms that improving as an artist is like getting in shape – for the best results, exercise regularly. I have all of these axioms on creativity which I know I have to follow but which I never do. Ugh.
I’ve started composing with speakers. I think I prefer it to composing with my headphones on – the music sounds more open and natural. But it’s also made me realise that getting a mix which sounds good on a variety of playback devices is fiendishly difficult. Presently, my music sounds quite good on my speakers but terrible through my headphones. Music made by professionals never seems to have this problem, for some reason. Hmm.
I missed the regular deadline for the Short Sounds Film Festival. I’ll make the late deadline – 3rd September. By then, I should have completed both my revised version of ‘Into Winter‘ and my third piece, so I’ll have two tracks to choose from.
What I did in the past few days:
- For the second time, I decided what my third piece is going to be. Opus 3 will be a song (female vocals, no lyrics) with themes of ‘priestess’, ‘love’, and ‘seashore’. It has no title yet, but the composing is going very smoothly. The song sounds melodic (a definite must for me) and pseudo-Celtic. I can’t wait to hear it once it’s finished.
- I learnt of a soundtrack/film-music competition which will be held at a festival in the UK in October. An organiser of the event replied to my tweet of ‘Into Winter‘ telling me that my music was good and that I should submit it. I thought he was just trying to promote the festival at first, but he left another comment confirming that he’d actually listened to my piece, and now, I’m thinking that I might submit ‘Into Winter’. What harm could it do, aside from the application fee I’ll have to pay?
- I got alarmed at rumours that SoundCloud is about to die. If you look at the comments in the post I linked to, you’ll see that many redditors seem ecstatic at this news, citing a plague of fake accounts (bots) and a badly-designed app as their main frustrations with SoundCloud. So far, I’ve had few problems with bots and haven’t used the app, so the impending doom of this platform is not entirely welcome news for me.
I suppose it’s time to start uploading to YouTube, although I’d hoped to continue using SoundCloud for a while yet as it allows users to replace their uploaded files while keeping likes and comments. YouTube doesn’t seem interested in implementing that feature.
I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one.
I decided to go ahead and use the ‘self-plagiarising’ melody exactly as it is after I asked the musicians of reddit for advice and was told that I was overthinking it.
Things went well for a while. I even wrote another post on reddit thanking the people who had responded to my last post because my composing was going so smoothly. But since then, I’ve become stuck.
I spent about 90 minutes trying to flesh out the ‘bare bones’ version (which is more or less finished) of ‘Follow Me’ before I realised that everything I’d just added sounded wrong. I deleted almost all of the work I’d done. And then I noticed something far more troubling than self-plagiarism: a section of ‘Follow Me’ sounds like real plagiarism.
So now, I’m trying to change the part that sounds worryingly familiar. Once that’s done, I’ll have to start adding instrumentation, but I don’t mind admitting that I haven’t the foggiest on how to go about it. ‘Follow Me’ is determined to give me an uphill struggle.
While I’m stuck and fuming, I’m venting some of my frustration by snipping away at the workload on some of my other pending compositions. I’m getting quite fond of the one with the theme of ‘sword fight’; I’m toying with the idea of coming up with a title for it.
My current goals for my third composition:
- Capture—or rather, hold onto and heighten—the feeling of liquid, irrational, blissful creativity. I’ve been struck by how my recent musical discoveries have so much flow. I’ve spent hours swaying and dreaming to that flow. Now, I’d like to capture it and put it into my own music. I know it can be done. All I need to do is stop thinking and dream.
- Try to avoid a long introduction. I chose to begin ‘Into Winter‘, my second piece, with a half-minute piano part because I thought it sounded meaningful. But now I’m starting to think that it was too much of an introduction and less of an integrated, functional part of the music. Enough of that. Instead of an introduction with clearly-defined borders, I’m going to dive into the music but build up towards the climax (the main melody). After all, everybody loves a good build-up.
- Actively listen to a large number of pieces in similar genres to improve my arranging skills. I’m serious. I don’t want to listen to any more of my music and wish that someone else had written the percussion for me. Progress starts now. It won’t happen overnight, but this is where it’s going to begin.
- Balance the dynamics throughout the piece. That means that I want quieter bars and notes interchanging with louder ones to keep things from getting boring. I did use some dynamics in my second piece, but the dynamic changes were done in big blocks. I’m aiming for more finesse with my third piece. (This goal is the one I’m least confident in achieving.)
- As ever, stay true to my chosen themes (leading, following, and trust). Soundtracks make the world go round.
I’ve made my decision. My third composition will be ‘Follow Me’, an orchestral/New Age piece with themes of leading, following, and trust. (And yes, that is the official title.)
My reasons? I listened to the melodic ideas I’ve saved over the past few months, and I realised that I’ve accumulated more material for ‘Follow Me’ than I thought I had. Also—and this is quite important—I have this gut feeling that this is the right time for this piece. It fits the emotional phase I’m going through, and I recently discovered some music which I think will serve as good inspiration. ‘Follow Me’ is begging me to take the plunge and start making it.
I just created a new project-file in Reaper. Opus 3 is officially in production!
There are plenty of boxes I have to tick before I can hear even a ‘bare bones’ version of my third piece, though. Despite the considerable amount of melodic material I currently have, there are still gaps which need to be filled. Also, I don’t have a clear vision of how this piece will be structured. With ‘Into Winter‘, I knew what the beginning, middle, and end would be very early on, before I opened my DAW. That’s not the case with this one. Maybe the lack of a pre-defined structure is a good thing and will allow for more originality and flexibility. Maybe not.
I’m off to do some musical ruminating (again). Personal growth is just around the corner. I can smell a composing adventure in the air.
What do I compose next? ‘Into Winter‘ is, for the moment, finished. I mentioned a long time ago that I feel like a cashier serving a long line of shoppers. I have too many ideas for compositions floating around in my head; I can count five for orchestral music and two for J-pop, making for a total of seven.
I’ll delay the J-pop songs because I don’t have the right VST to produce them. After receiving some feedback assuring me that my orchestral compositions are indeed improving, I’m not in the mood to spend time and money taking a detour into pop-song territory. I want to continue my winning streak in orchestral music—I’d like to place myself on a roll, see how far I can get.
So which orchestral piece do I choose? Being a great lover of soundtracks, I have themes or settings for all of my music. For my second piece, it was ‘winter’; the subjects of my pending orchestral-compositions are ‘forest’, ‘leading’, ‘seashore’, ‘sword fight’, and ‘Roman senator’.
‘Forest’ is based on ideas I’ve had for a long time, and I want it to be spectacular. I won’t do it yet because I lack experience. ‘Leading’ would be my choice if the main melody didn’t sound similar to a part of ‘Into Winter’. If I chose to compose it now, I’d only be plagiarising myself, but I’d prefer not to do that for reasons of pride. I’ll wait and see if I can think of a way to change the melody while keeping the emotion.
‘Seashore’, ‘sword fight’, or ‘Roman senator’ it is, then. Unfortunately, none of these three ideas are complete—that means that I don’t know how they’ll sound in their entirety. I’ll do some musical ruminating to see which one is most willing to let me fill in its gaps; after that, I’ll make my choice.
As I did before, I turned out to have underestimated the amount of time it would take to finish my track. I thought all of the arranging was done, but then, I listened to my rendered track on my phone and realised that my mix sounded horrible.
I’ve spent a good 6 hours over the past week adjusting velocity, trying to get the mix to sound loud in all the right places. The velocity changes are done, but ideas for new changes keep popping into my mind. They say that women are fickle; I certainly am. Now I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to loathe ‘Into Winter’, and I haven’t even uploaded it yet.
I could ignore the suggestions for improvement that pester me and upload the mix. Or I could struggle some more. I wouldn’t mind choosing the latter option if only I wasn’t such a slow composer. Six hours it took me to adjust velocity, mind you. I try so hard not to be a perfectionist, but once I sit down at my computer, something else seems to take over.
The only consolation I can take away from this is that the ‘final’ mix of my second piece sounds better than that of my first. It’s not ideal, but it’s a step up—maybe several steps up. At least that’s something.
Why is The Witcher 3 soundtrack so brilliant? I know this isn’t related to my composing (or if it is, then only vaguely so), but it has to be said. I can’t believe this soundtrack was published for two years before I heard of it. Shame on me. I obviously haven’t been googling hard enough.
It all started when I browsed YouTube for background music that I could read and study to. I discovered a video of tavern music which had some tracks from the Witcher 3 soundtrack in it. The rest, as they say, is history.
I’m completely hooked. As I said on Twitter, this is the worst soundtrack addiction to hit me since I drooled over Final Fantasy VII‘s music. Just when I thought that my listening life was getting dull, too.
The best thing for me about the Witcher 3 soundtrack is that it’s non-Western music which is of an extraodinary quality. (The music is European, but it’s Polish.) I have nothing against Western music, but after thousands of listens, it does all tend to blur together. This soundtrack is exactly what I needed to invigorate my ears and my enthusiasm.
It appeals to me as an Easterner, too. It’s all very odd because my homeland (the Republic of Korea) has no historical connection with Poland. But something about the way the vocalists sing and the musicians play in the music just reaches into me.
I became so obsessed with the game’s soundtrack that I bought the books that the games are based on. I’m enjoying them, too. I’m feeling so fond of them that I’m even considering buying the games which the books inspired, a first for me. I must be in love or something.
As for ‘Into Winter’, my second piece, I am close to wrapping everything up. Just a few more hours in it, and it’ll be done. I’m so proud of this piece. I can hear the imperfections in it, but unlike with ‘Onwards‘, I’ve tried hard to deliver my best. ‘Into Winter’ represents where I stand as a composer right now.
To all visitors: a few days ago, I had the idea of making a visitors’ book where you can introduce me and other visitors to your blogs, SNS accounts, and music. It was a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself. I have nothing against self-promotion—if you’re visiting my website, please consider reading the rules of the visitors’ book and leaving a comment.
I went to the fourth concert of my life yesterday. I think I’m over the awe of being at a concert now. Throughout the event, criticisms such as ‘Maybe East Asian violinists really are inexpressive’ kept popping into my head.